In the United States Army, we often talked about “owning the battlefield” or in some cases controlling the battlespace. The Air Force typically gains air superiority while the tankers and infantry must hold key points of terrain. The Navy, of course, dominates the oceans and provides additional support to the coastline. In Martial Arts, do we look at self-defense as having more than one field of battle? And if not, why not?
If we look at YouTube videos of street fights or even professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) cage fights, there can be no doubt that one aspect of combat takes place standing up. It can be described as stand-up fighting. Typically speaking, Boxing, Kickboxing, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Kung Fu practitioners focus on punching and kicking, as well as, footwork and movement while standing.
The second aspect we often see in both real street fights and these cage matches is the ground-fighting element. Wrestlers, Judo players, and Jiu-Jitsu-trained individuals focus on getting inside the striking range to make a throw, immobilize their opponent on the ground, and then submit or ground strike to end the fight.
Obviously, these two major aspects of the battlefield can be subdivided into subcategories. The stand-up fighters have a punching aspect and a kicking aspect, while ground fighters have a throwing aspect, submission aspect, and even a ground-striking aspect. There could be other systems where these things overlap. I enjoy training in three areas: striking, throwing, and ground fighting. These are the three battlefields of my choosing.
In military operations, it is critical to have a strategy. This is the overarching answer to the question, how will we win? Isn’t it interesting that in war, when we have dominated air, land, and sea battles, we have always won? In wars where we have not dominated, for one reason or another (to include political interference or limiting rules of engagement), we tend to struggle or lose.
Allow me to submit that in self-defense, or even in no-holds-barred MMA competitions, failing to control each battlefield leaves us vulnerable. The best strategy is to own all of the battlefields. The alternative is to fight in a way that our opponent is denied the ability to do what he does best and is forced to fight within the strategy of our choosing. The converse is also true. If we fail to fight to our advantages/skills, we will have no choice but to fight on our opponent’s terms, a losing strategy in most cases.
Isn’t it true that even the best boxers have difficulty fighting kickboxers when the match stays at a long-range (kicking range)? Only when the boxer can get inside of the kicking range does he or she have the technical advantage. Isn’t it true that the best boxers and kickboxers, as well as other stand-up martial artists, have difficulty in the grappling range? Escaping the grip/clinch of a wrestler, or Judo/Jiu-Jitsu practitioner is no small task. Once on the ground, there can be no doubt that the stand-up fighter has difficulty doing what he or she does best, and the ground fighter has a major advantage. Ironically, those stand-up fighters, who master just a few techniques for defense against grapplers, manage to survive the ground attack. They can often escape and return to the standing position, where they can dominate. Ultimately, isn’t it true that any boxer or kickboxer who can escape the takedown and remain standing has a dramatic advantage against a ground fighter who has no stand-up skills to work with?
It always seems to boil down to who controls the battlefield or who can control the initiative of the battle, which in layman’s terms means they control the choice where the battle takes place (the attack).
So, are you a die-hard stand-up fighter? Are you a ground-fighting exclusive practitioner? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you must set the stage for your victory and control the initiative. If you said no, then perhaps you are comfortable striking in the stand-up environment and grappling on the ground. It really leads us to a choice and preference. Whatever your choice, we must be aware of our vulnerabilities. It is the MMA mantra for sure.
If you have been a specialist for most of your Martial Arts and self-defense training time, perhaps you will consider training with us at Conway Toe2Toe, where you can enhance your vulnerable areas or at least test your specialized skills against opponents who want to take you out of your area of expertise. You don’t have to abandon your method, but there is great wisdom in understanding what you can and can’t do if you lose the initiative.
Curtiss Robinson, MA, NSCA-CPT
ConwayToe2Toe – Owner